Posts Tagged ‘ Sins of a Solar Empire

Another Key to the Kingdom

Earlier this year, when the TMA crew and I covered the Diplomacy expansion to Sins of a Solar Empire, I saw a lot of intriguing ideas that I wanted to explore further. So I spent the next couple months playing the game a lot more with MK and some friends, and trying to get a feel for the system. I promised I’d write more about it, and I finally have: it’s the subject of my latest GSW column.

My feelings about the expansion evolved as I spent more time with it. While my first reaction to the diplomacy system was unenthusiastic, I really missed it when a recurring bug forced me to play a lot of Sins: Entrenchment. Without really noticing, I’d become really dependent on my ability to communicate with other players and AIs via the game’s diplomatic options. When I could go back to playing Diplomacy, it was with a new appreciation for the language of favors and reprisals that Diplomacy opened up.

I think Diplomacy is a fascinating attempt to revitalize and deepen an established game, and so I devoted the latest installment of my GameSetWatch column, “Keys to the Kingdom”, to looking at the expansion’s purpose and effects on gameplay. Go take a look at it and let me know you think. Plus, I’d be really interested to hear what other people have made of the Diplomacy expansion, and how much my experience matches theirs.

If you feel like commenting on the piece, please do so over at GSW.

Scene in an Elevator

Yesterday MK and I were in an elevator with three other people, heading up to our apartment for lunch. After the doors closed and it started moving, I turned to her.

“So… while we wait for lunch to arrive you wanna… you know. A little Sins?” I smiled and wiggled my eyebrows.

“YES,” she said.

Then I realized the other passengers were giving us disgusted looks. And it occurred to me that they probably thought we were talking about something else, and didn’t hear the italics in the words Sins.

I turned red and directed my attention back to the non-judgmental elevator doors.

One Move Behind – Sins Diplomacy

For once, I don’t have too much to add beyond what I said during the podcast. I was a bit more nervous than usual during this recording because I don’t feel all that qualified to talk about Sins of a Solar Empire. As I pointed out during the episode, I didn’t come to this expansion with much Sins experience under my belt, and so I am still struggling to learn the game as a whole, much less the impact of one expansion.

This was one of those times that I really envied the other panelists’ abilities to see into the way strategy games work. I sort of felt like Charlie Brown in that one strip where he and Linus are lying on the hilltop, staring at the clouds. Charlie Brown asks Linus what he sees, and Linus describes this vivid, exciting scene that he perceives in the sky. Then Linus asks Charlie Brown what he sees. “I see a horsey,” he says.

Troy, Tom, and Julian seemed to get Diplomacy and understood the avenues of play that it opened up, while I basically did not. I have yet to decide whether that is my problem or the game’s. My own feeling right now is that Diplomacy runs on a parallel track to everything else I am doing. While I am fighting to stay competitive on the battlefield and keep a robust economy fueling my military, a diplomatic game is going on behind the scenes that allows players to do an end run around the core game. I can’t quite make out the connection between the diplomatic game and the rest of what is going on.

For example, my partner and I were playing a three-sided game and both of us were having serious problems with an AI player. It was overrunning the system and cutting off our avenues of expansion, and we were constantly skirmishing with it. It was an endless cycle of raid and counter-raid, and it was splendid fun. But when I looked at the “Relationships” window, I found that this aggressive AI was more than halfway to a diplomatic victory because of its good relations with other factions. According this readout, it was getting the most diplomatic points from MK and me! Excuse me, but I think if you’re going to be racing for a diplomatic victory, you should probably be penalized for pummeling the living crap out of certain players.

Update: A Discordant Note!

[Now fixed. See update below.] Since we recorded and I wrote the above, MK and I have played a great deal more Diplomacy and have discovered that the game is pretty broken for me. I basically can’t play multiplayer.

It’s insidious, because the game appears to be working. It isn’t until you and your playing partners start really communicating about what you see going on that your realize that you aren’t in the same game.

MK and I were two hours and fifteen minutes into a 2 v 2 v 2 multiplayer match when she asked if I could send a fleet to help her out at the planet Giada. Red had broken their ceasefire and was attacking. I said I could and gave the orders. Then I checked out what was happening in her part of the star system.

“Um, hon, red isn’t attacking you. They’re just hanging out at Giada.”

“What? No, I’m fighting them there right now.”

“I don’t even see any of your ships.”

She came over to my computer. “Wait, this isn’t right. I’m seeing something completely different over there. Does this game model delayed information due to the speed of light?”

I laughed. “No. That’d be awesome, but I don’t think it does. No.”

“Then this is all screwed up. I don’t even see you as owning that planet. I’m seeing that blue owns it.”

As we compared notes and looked at each other’s games, we realized that our games had diverged. In mine, she was at peace with red and I was aggressively expanding into blue’s holdings. In hers, red had just betrayed her and launched a massive attack at her frontier while I was pinned into a corner by an emerging blue superpower. In my game, the pirates were about to launch, while in hers there were 10 minutes left on the countdown timer. Later, going back through our save files, we found that the games had ceased to match after 1 hr 15 min.

It happens in every game we play together, regardless of setup. Now that we’ve started looking for it, we can see it happening as early as a half hour into the game. The pirate countdown de-syncs, and then we start looking for discontinuities. They’re easy to find: ships fighting in the center of an enemy system on my screen, the same fleet just dropping out of a jump on hers.

Depressingly, this appears to be a known issue with the game, and I’m not sure what progress there has been toward resolving it. But it is a total show-stopper if you want to play with friends. It was probably happening in the games I played with Tom and Rabbit, but the diplomatic victory brought the game to a close before anyone could notice.

Add the fact that the game will crash for me after two hours or so of play, and the future for me and Diplomacy starts to look awful stormy. Here’s hoping a patch fixes it soon.

Update II: Fixed

It does appear that the new patch for Diplomacy fixed the sync problem I’d been having. I haven’t had a chance to play more than 90 minutes of the patched version, but we didn’t run into any problems and the games still matched when we finally quit for the day.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this game soon.